3 Little-Known Tips to Prepare for and Ace the NAPLEX

Read these essential and unexpected tips to ace the NAPLEX, the last hurdle to clear before you become a pharmacist.

For a prospective pharmacist, after all your years of education, you're now faced with one more demanding hurdle — the NAPLEX. It all comes down to 185 questions. If you pass, you're a pharmacist. If you fail — well, let's not fail.

Here are some well-known — and not-so-well-known — tips, tricks, and answers to some of the most commonly-asked questions about the NAPLEX.

Just getting started? Check out Don Osborne's article on what the NAPLEX is.

How Is the Exam Structured?

The NAPLEX is a computer-adaptive standardized test that contains 185 multiple-choice (multiple-guess!) questions. It is administered at special testing centers. The exam is scored on a 0-to-150 scale, and the minimum passing score is a 75, which roughly translates to 60 percent of questions answered correctly. The test is designed linearly, and you need to answer each question in sequence. You may not skip a question.

How Do I Study?

Since you've taken classes in pharmacy school for many years now, you are already well-prepared — albeit perhaps a bit rusty — for the exam. Your main strategies to prepare are reviewing the content and developing your time management and other test-taking skills.

I suggest beginning to study at least 90 days before your examination. If you really want to gauge your baseline — and I highly recommend this — take a pre-NAPLEX exam before you fully embark on preparing for test. This practice exam will simulate actual NAPLEX-type questions, and it is very useful in assessing your strengths and weaknesses. The practice exam costs $65 and consists of 100 questions.

What Are Key Test-Taking Strategies?

If you’ve taken a class or read one of the NAPLEX test-prep books, you've likely already been taught and reminded (ad nauseam) about process of elimination, or POE. And you probably already have a strong sense of the advantage of timing — that is, of not spending too much time on a question, and knowing how to identify a particular question as a "time waster," and accordingly just picking any answer choice so you can move on.

But there are also some less well-known approaches that can help you ace NAPLEX:

1. Accuracy wins.

Since the NAPLEX is computer-adaptive, its weakness lies in how it determines your final score. You can read more about this topic in What Is the NAPLEX? — but in a nutshell, go slowly enough to raise your accuracy to very high percentages during the first third of the exam. This strategy will raise your overall score significantly.

2. Look at the questions you got wrong — and those you got right!

Most students who prep for a standardized test take a practice exam, score the results, and look through the answers they got wrong to figure out what happened. But how many also take the time to look at the questions they got right to figure out how that happened?

Understanding what makes a "good guess" is just as important as knowing what constitutes a wrong answer. Take the extra time to think through the reasoning you used to arrive at a correct answer — especially when you’re guessing.

3. Prepare to feel unprepared.

People who take standardized tests often feel remorse and regret during the last few days before the test: "Why didn't I study more?" "I don't think I'm ready ... maybe I should postpone." Don't fall into this trap.

Instead, remind yourself that you're a capable candidate who performed well during pharmacy school. Your improved confidence will raise your score.

One Last Tip

The worst thing you can do just prior to your test date is take a practice test to see how high you can score. It's a trap that is as likely as not to damage your self-confidence. Instead, retake a test that you’ve seen before. Then score it, and enjoy the near-perfect result — who cares that you've seen some of the questions before? You need the assurance that you can do well much more than you need to take "just one more" practice test.

Facing the NAPLEX is probably not your idea of a fun and relaxing day. But going into the exam with the confidence that you worked hard throughout pharmacy school and are well-prepared for this final hurdle will enable you to get through the test successfully and move on to a rewarding career as a pharmacist.

Find more articles and answers from Don Osborne on his Noodle Expert profile.

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